President David Granger: Well, you don’t know how long I have dreamt of this day, that all four hinterland villages would one day become towns, and today the 25th of October, this is a dream come true. You know, if you look at your programme you will see two small photographs and you might want to ignore the photographs but the photograph at the top was on the cover of a booklet produced by the Leader of the Opposition in 2014 called “Another Country”. That booklet suggested that Guyana was divided into two countries: one east of the Essequibo and one west of the Essequibo, and to see Main Street, Mahdia, it was heartrending and I just hope and pray that one day Minister of Public Infrastructure, Mr. David Patterson would come and change these potholes into drivable concrete surfaces. So you see, it’s good to dream Mahdia.
Honourable Sydney Allicock, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs; Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection; Honourable David Patterson, Minister of Public Infrastructure; Honourable Ronald Bulkan – like you all have the whole Cabinet here Mahdia – Minister of Communities; Regional Chairman, Mr. Bonaventure Fredricks, regional executive officers, mayors of the various municipalities, representatives of the RDCs, Toshaos, residents:
This is such a rich evening to listen to the testimony of Ministers and Mayors telling you what a good thing it has been for local democracy to come to these communities and for these so-called villages and landings to be made into towns. This was a natural testimony from people who have experienced the changes in these communities, irreversible changes. Nobody could take the country backwards. We are moving forward, Mahdia is moving forward, Mabaruma is moving forward, Bartica is moving forward, Lethem is moving forward.
One thing is certain, I will never have to produce a booklet with potholes again. You know, when I went to Mabaruma and we were going into the township I asked the pilot, “You all land yet?” He said, “We are on the road.” I said, “Which road?” I’ve never seen the road in Mabaruma so smooth, and then you could drive all the way to Kumaka, and these are the changes that are taking place and you want to know why it didn’t happen before. But I’ll tell you why I t didn’t happen before, democracy was not present before.
You know, my brothers and sisters, people may feel that we are making a big song and dance about Local Government Elections and with every passing day I feel like this is one of the most important things to happen to Guyana in the last half century. So for 22 years we had no Local Government Elections in this country. The AFC and APNU went to parliament and passed four bills and the most important bills were never implemented. Thirty-eight municipalities and neighbourhood democratic councils were uprooted by the previous administration. Democracy was stifled; no elections for 22 years; IMCs implanting; bills not passed. All that came to an end in May 2015 and within ten months of the elections of May 2015, not ten years; between ten months of the elections of May 2015 we had the first Local Government Elections in 22 years.
My brothers and sisters, these elections are not ornamental, these elections are not a privilege. These elections are an entitlement, a democratic entitlement that you deserve as citizens of Guyana. I cannot prevent General and Regional Elections in 2020. Similarly, I cannot prevent Local Government Elections and I’m glad, win, lose, or draw. My party, my coalition, my colleagues didn’t win in 2016, but we’re going again because whichever party wins represents the voice of the people. Whichever party wins represents that democratic dividend where Guyanese can sit around the table and discuss how their communities would be improved. And I’ve seen the changes all over this country and luckily, you have a government who has a common vision of how this country should develop.
It’s a six-party coalition but we have a single minded view of how this country should develop. I don’t have to tell David Patterson about hinterland roads, about public services. I don’t have to tell Ronald Bulkan about local democracy. I don’t have to tell Sydney Allicock about Indigenous People’s affairs – we have a common vision and that is the vision that drives us forward. So we hope and we pray that when elections come around you all will make the right decisions. All that you have to do is look around you and you will see the importance of having people who care about you, and our six parties care about you. We are never going to remove a democratically elected NDC or municipality and install an IMC. We are never going to postpone Local Government Elections once they fall due. This is our commitment to you. We want you to develop these communities. Everybody is talking about the hinterland towns, ‘capital’ towns. Well you know, I am a politician. I am accustomed to hostility but I am not accustomed to stupidity.
These ‘capital’ towns will become hubs for development. Region Six has three towns, and the whole hinterland had zero towns before the APNU-AFC came along. How can you run a Region which is the size of Costa Rica, which is the Rupununi with a little village the size of Lethem? How can you run a Region the size of Fiji, namely the Potaro-Siparuni, with a village called Mahdia? How could you run a Region the size of The Netherlands, which is the Cuyuni-Mazaruni and Bartica is still a village? How could you run a village which is four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago, the Barima-Waini, and Mabaruma is still a village? Mabaruma doesn’t even have a bank.
What you’re seeing now is the underdevelopment of these regions, and what you will see from now on is the development of these regions because I can see the young men, and not so young men, I didn’t forget you, who are committed to making something of their ‘capital’ towns. They want to see parks, the want to see investment. So my brothers and sisters we’re not going back, we’re moving forward to the creation of these townships, and today I am proud, I am pleased to be here at Mahdia, to celebrate the launching of Guyana’s tenth town.
You go to any part of Europe or Asia; the majority of people live in towns. Towns are the hubs of economic development; towns are where the populations are concentrated. Towns are the hubs of business and industry. Towns are the centre of transportation. Towns are the concentration of occupation. Young people leave the countryside to go to the town and the same thing is going to happen in Guyana. Why should a pensioner at Aishalton have to pay $5,000 to go to Lethem to collect his NIS? Does that make sense? Before our coalition got into office a businessman had to leave Lethem to go to Suddie to register his business.
So you had an administration from May 2015 which started to look at government critically and correct all of the flaws and deficiencies which existed before. So we’re now en route to the integration of these regions. The Region now has a centre so people from outlying areas can come to that centre. Lethem is going to have a major aerodrome; it’s going to have eventually, a major sporting centre; it’s going to have police stations, law courts; it’s going to have banks; it already has banks; it’s going to have commercial opportunities. You can go into the town, get your NIS, anything that you want. You don’t have to leave your Region. All you have to do is go to the regional capital to conduct your business. Born, live and die in your own Region.
So that is the idea, that these regions are almost like states, that people can feel comfortable living in a Region that delivers public services, good health, good education, good transportation, so the regions would be more integrated. I don’t have to leave Mabaruma to go to Georgetown to transact business you can do it right there, and this will happen now in all four of these large regions. So the country will be more integrated. I started off by saying this country had been divided by hinterland, coastland and anybody who travelled between the two would know the difference between hinterland and coastland. It shouldn’t have to happen anymore that residents and citizens west of the Essequibo should have similar resources and facilities for development and in this way, I feel the country will be better integrated.
My brothers and sisters, national development is indispensable from democratic government. We cannot develop this country with the old model, in which a minister sitting down at Fort Street, Kingston, not this one, a minister sitting down at Fort Street Kingston will just call up and say do this and do that. We’re not going back there. Those of you who are old enough would know something called the compound mentality. The colonial, when the colonial government used to have something called district commissioners; these district commissioners were a bit chibbat. If you know what chibbat means, he was surrounded by a compound – anything that had value, the police station, the law courts, the PWD, everything was in that compound. Sometimes even the hospital and that compound was like an oasis running this huge area, but it was not developing, it was just collecting taxes. It wasn’t developing and we are now changing that whole model. From a model of pure administration – oh the miners are coming out the river, let’s collect. We are now introducing a development model, one that advertises, one that advocates; one that promotes development instead of mere administration; one that promotes growth and this is what I want to talk about most of all in this 10th town of Guyana.
After today, the balloons and the flags will disappear and then the hard work starts. Yes, you have to work with the Region and the government. As you know, government takes place in three levels: Vice President Allicock is the central level, central government. Mr. Fredericks is at the regional level and the soon-to-be Mayor of Mahdia will be operating at the local or municipal level. That’s where Mr. Henry is located – the Mayors, but all three levels have to work together, central, regional and local. So from tomorrow, from the 12th of November, we have to look at a new model, not one that is based on conflict and confrontation, but one that is based on cooperation. Whichever party you come from, he must be able to sit down and say, “I feel that this is the best for my community, for my constituency”.
We want pure water, clean water, we want better electricity; we want streets which are safe for our young women and our young men; we want to eradicate crime. Everybody can come around the table to make it a better place. We want more commerce, we have to improve transportation and one of these days, you all keep on voting for me I’m going to build a bridge across that Essequibo River. No pontoon, you must be able to drive. You must be able to drive from Moleson Creek to Mahdia without getting your feet wet.
My brothers and sisters you have to start manufacturing. You know people speak in international economics about ‘the Dutch disease’. Well in fact, The Netherlands, it wasn’t really a ‘Dutch’ disease, but the name stuck. What it meant is that when you start to produce a lot of minerals, people forget food because you pay too much attention to the minerals. In this case, oil and gas and food prices just go up. Well here in Mahdia, here in Region Eight, you must ensure that you don’t suffer from ‘yellow’ fever. You know what is ‘yellow’ fever? Gold! This afternoon at another event, I told a story of a friend who came in here; he had ‘yellow’ fever; he’s going to become rich; he’s going to become a miner. So when I saw him, I asked him, “How’s the mining going?” He said, “I’m still rich. I don’t look for gold; I sell food.” You can’t eat gold, but you have to eat food every day and he seems to be doing pretty well. I won’t call his name, but let me tell you this, Mahdia and Region Eight must not suffer from ‘yellow’ fever. You must maintain agricultural production and you must build the type of balanced economy in which people could produce food profitably, to supply the mines and the schools and other activities and, instead of importing all that stuff from other regions, start to export.
You have the possibility of generating energy and I’d like to support the Minister of Communities in his thrust to reactivate the Tumatumari power station so that eventually, you will be able to get cheaper power. But even so, you can get solar power; you can get wind power and that solar power or wind power or water power can help to drive small industries, agro-industries, household industries. So that the housekeepers, the housewives, young people who want to produce even plantain chips – that’s another joke that a man had, plantain chip economy. Guatemala exports plantain chips to Guyana and Jamaica, the plantain chip economy, but these people can produce a range of commodities – and I’ve seen this myself. Last week I was at the RACE, the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition in the Rupununi. You could have swam in honey; I’ve never seen so much honey!
People produced a variety of commodities – cassava bread, cassareep; these regions are not barren, they are not desert. Everybody doesn’t have to wait for the boys to come out of the back dam. You can embark on agriculture and agro-processing to take food into the back dam and also to satisfy the schools and other institutions, the hospital, the civil servants who might not have time to produce themselves and the economies start to turn over. The banks will come, the banks like money and they don’t like to see people walking around with money in black plastic bags. They’re going to come to put your money to work.
So you can see brothers and sisters, this whole idea of regionalisation is not a pipe dream. It is the way to develop Guyana from the grassroots. Mahdia itself, perhaps, has the most famous reputation for immigration in the entire country. Mahdia has always attracted immigrants. Immigrants only go where they are needed and there’s nothing wrong with immigration and everybody knows that immigrants have contributed to the development of Mahdia. Mahdia can build bigger and better schools. Mahdia could become a hub for telecommunication. Potaro-Siparuni and those of you from other regions might doubt, but when you wake up in the morning and look out of your window, you think you’re in heaven. This is the most beautiful Region in the country and I’m sure that with the development of eco-tourism – and you got to clean up some of those ‘abscesses’ in the mining areas, but you will have a robust tourism industry.
So my brothers and sisters, we have embarked today, the 25th of October, on one of the most powerful economic changes in the history of Mahdia. First of all, you are installing and embedding democracy in this town. Democratisation will ensure that every citizen will have the opportunity to be involved in decision-making, to speak up and to ensure that his or her voice is heard. Secondly, administration will be decentralized. Nobody could sit down in Fort Street, Kingston and decide what suite of furniture you must have, you have to make those decisions here. Those decisions have to be decentralized. How could you run an area the size of Fiji with one minister of local government? How you could you run an area the size of the Rupununi with one minister? You have to decentralize and give people on the ground increasing authority to make decisions.
And thirdly, you have to diversify your economy. Nothing lasts forever. People speak about oil. Oil doesn’t last forever you know. Some people think that oil doesn’t spoil, but it won’t last forever. Maybe you will see the best of it; maybe your children, maybe your grandchildren, but it is a finite resource. Similarly, gold is a finite resource; it wouldn’t last forever. Always be prepared to walk on two legs so that you can have a strong agricultural economy and this Region is one of the richest potential.
My brothers and sisters, agriculture should not be ignored and I urge the new municipal council that will be established after the 12th of November to ensure that there is balanced economic development of this vast Region, which will stimulate employment. It will reduce this over dependency on gold and it will encourage investment from other parts of the country. Once again, I congratulate you people of Mahdia. I’m very happy to be here to launch this town, the 10th town in Guyana. I’m honoured to have played a role in bringing Mahdia to this state and I’d like to urge, as my fellow ministers have urged that you all go out on the 12th of November next month and exercise your franchise. Don’t forget, not to vote is a vote because if you don’t vote, you could let the wrong person in. So you have to vote to ensure that the right person gets in.
So thank you very much Mahdia we’ve had a very good exchange this evening, it is an honour for me to come back. I’ve been here before. I’m not sure that the Chairman is aware of my previous visits, that is how I was able to take the photograph that is on the cover here, but I’d like to congratulate you on the establishment of this 10th town and I’d like to urge you to join the community of towns that are developing this country and that will make Guyana a better place for our children and grandchildren.
May God bless you, Mahdia.